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Sugar & Slavery -
How Sweet Was It?
gourmet articlessugar & slavery

March 2003
We use sugar in our hot and cold drinks, desserts, candies, fruits and vegetables, meat recipes, chewing gum, and even feed a little to our yeast to help it rise when baking breads. If you want to see a sports event you can go to the Sugar Bowl. Some people use sugar as a term of endearment and, others are just happy with a Sugar Daddy, (this is the one that's caramel candy on a stick . . . the other is another subject).

Pastry chefs enjoy creating numerous art forms from sugar paste, fondant or pastillage.

In today's society, sugar is readily available for use and consumption, but this was not always true. The following is just a very brief history on the subject of "sugar and slavery". The initial use of cane sugar by man is thought to originate in Polynesia from where it spread to India. At this time, sugar cane was chewed because of its sweet taste. In the early 4th Century B.C., persons living in the Mediterranean countries learned about this delicious sweet sugar of India through the armies of Alexander the Great, but it would take another 1,000 years before sugar cane was brought to the Middle East, North Africa, and southern Europe by conquering Moslem armies. The merchants of Genoa hired the young Christopher Columbus to ship their sugar from Madeira. Columbus was aware of the value of this cargo since his first wife's mother owned a sugar plantation and therefore, natural for him to introduce sugar to the New World in 1493.

Sugar and South America
After the original planting of sugar cane in Santo Domingo, the crop quickly spread to countries such as Puerto Rico, Cuba, and other South American countries. These planters massed enormous fortunes.

Sugar and Profit
Sugar was extremely profitable, but required larges areas of land and a large labor force. Sugar cane takes between 14 to 18 months just to ripen, but once it is harvested, it must be processed within a few hours to keep it from fermenting and spoiling. Therefore, the use of slavery was essential to the success of sugar production.

Sugar and Slaves
The best choice were slaves from West Africa. These were experienced in the sugar cane production because they had worked on the Atlantic and Caribbean plantations. Also, it is interesting to note that the African legal system recognized slaves as being the only form of private revenue-producing property. In other words, in Africa slaves were considered a "taxed-property" which generated revenue. Therefore, slave trading was widespread in producing wealth for the African elites. In the early 15th Century, regardless of a well-developed slave trade, European slave traders carried out illegal slave trading. By the end of the 16th Century, history has recorded that literally millions of Africans were torn from their homes and families, and forced to make the dreaded "Middle Passage" voyage. This passage was not only dehumanizing, but often the causes of death from diseases such as yellow fever, measles, and small pox. Additionally, the conditions on these ships caused many of the slaves to suffer psychological damage as well.

Abolition of Slavery?
By 1807 Britain passed into law the Abolition of Slavery. Other laws, regulations and codes followed. As recent as 1997, the United Nations visited the Dominican Republic to investigate complaints against Haitian workers working on state-owned sugar cane plantations there. The allegations were that Haitian workers were not receiving wages for the first three months of their contracts, and after this period the workers were paid in tokens. These tokens were of two types: "tickets" of the cane cutting and loading, and "coupons" for can cleaning. These tickets could be converted into cash, but only at a 20 per cent discount. Tickets could only be used at the issuing supervisor's shop. Today, sugar is produced in 121 countries, and global production new exceeds 120 million tons a year, with about 70 per cent produced from sugar cane and the remaining sugar beet.

Written By Chef Emily De Long

Emily De Long is Executive Pastry Chef and Owner of Gourmet Bake Shoppe located in Virginia Beach, Virginia Virginia

Apple Brandy-Walnut Galette
For the pastry (pate feuilletee):
3-1/4 sticks chilled unsalted butter, quartered lengthwise and diced
3/4 teaspoons salt
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour (1/2 cup for sprinkling)
1/2 cup cake flour
1/2 cup ice water

For the filling:
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter
1/2 cup (4 ounces) pure can sugar
4 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon vanilla-butternut extract
2 tablespoons apple brandy
1 tablespoon Southern Comfort , plus 1 teaspoon
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely ground walnuts

For the pastry
Place flours, salt and chilled diced butter in bowl of a heavy duty mixer. With flat beater mix until resembles crumbs.
Form a triangle by flouring top and bottom lightly. Flip and fold as you would a letter. Keep turning and folding, and keeping your work surface neat and clean. When all flour is absorbed into dough and you have folded the dough about three or four times, wrap in cloth and put in refrigerator to chill and relax the gluten. Turn several times more, and dough will then be ready to form and bake. Makes about 1-1/2 of pastry.
No time for that? Use (1) box of Peppridge Farm Puff Pastry

Cream butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Whisk in the remaining filling ingredients.
Roll out (2) circles of dough approximately 10 inch in circumference under a lightly floured surface. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and place one circle of dough onto the sheet. Fill dough in center and spread on circle leaving 1-1/2 inch margin on sides.
Whisk the remaining egg yolk with teaspoon Southern Comfort and brush margin carefully . . . do not let drip off sides of dough onto parchment.
Place second circle of dough on top and pinch ends decoratively all around. With a sharp knife, make a pattern on top, but do not cut through the tart. Brush with remaining egg wash and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Bake at 375 degrees F. for 35 to 40 minutes or until brown, crispy and puffy. Drizzle with confectioners sugar flavored with Southern Comfort, or dust with sugar.

Recipe By Chef Emily De Long

White Asparagus
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